Updated: May 2
The following comments are excerpts from my letter to constituents on January 30, 2015.
We have just completed our third week of the 63rd Idaho Legislature. My first term was a bit unique as it included 30 freshmen legislators, 43% of the Idaho House of Representatives. We experienced a much slower and deliberate process, allowing us time to adjust to the formality of committees, parliamentary procedure and protocol. This year we have 15 freshmen (21%) and 55 members (79%) with legislative experience. So, we expect to move things along.
Everyone agrees that the past three weeks have been very busy. Legislative advisors (lobbyists), chairmen, leadership and agency staffs were all ready to hit the road running, and they did. However, the actual volume has been much slower. A comparison of the actual activity confirms that the pace of new legislation is down. For example, in the 62nd Legislature (2013 and 2014) there were 93 and 115 bills introduced over the first three weeks of those years. This compares to only 79 this year. If the first three weeks are any indication, we may see a reduced legislative workload. I hope this means we are keeping our focus on the more important challenges.
Our committees are completing their reviews of the administrative rules. I do not have any numbers, so it may be that we had more regulations to review. If so, that may have taken time away from new legislation. The media generally focuses on new bills as they progress through the legislature. However, each agency issues administrative rules to implement the changes in Idaho laws, court rulings and changes in federal laws. Rules can be simple clarifications or technical corrections. These rules make up part of the regulatory burden that impacts us directly.
Idaho has a unique system when it comes to the Rules Process. Think of the separation of powers and it will be more helpful to understand. We have three branches of government: Executive (the Governor), Legislative (Idaho House and Senate) and finally the Judicial. Rules are set in place to provide clarity and guidance to Idaho Code, as well as related federal laws and rules. The rules are under the purview of the Executive Branch through the many State Agencies in Idaho. For example, the Business Committee reviews all rules issued by the Idaho Department of Insurance (and several other agencies). Idaho has a formal procedure to assure public involvement by citizens, businesses and other stakeholders. When it reaches the Business Committee we have that final opportunity to determine if the legislative intent is being followed.
Last week we assigned the rules to various sub-committees to begin the review process. As the new Vice Chairman of the Business Committee, I had the responsibility to establish three subcommittees to review these rules. The unique part of the Idaho Administrative rules process is that the rules can be rejected or approved by the legislature. Because these are Executive powers, we cannot amend the rules; we can only reject an entire rule, or a section of the rule. Additionally, if one chamber of the Legislature (House or Senate) rejects the rule, the other chamber must concur, otherwise the rule will go into effect. One exception is a change in fees. Either the House or Senate can reject a fee rule, without concurrence from the other legislative chamber. Very few state legislatures have this power.
My daily committee is Education, which meets each morning. Since education accounts for over 61% of the appropriations from our general fund, it is important that we give careful consideration to all facets of our public education and higher education policies. The coming weeks will intensify as we address the salary-based appropriations to fund our educators. Our goal is to increase the minimum teacher salary from $31,750 to $40,000 over the next five fiscal years. We have guidance from the recommendations of the 2013 Governor’s Task Force on Improving Education and the 2014 Interim Committees of: Career Ladder & Teacher Licensure, Structure & Governance and Literacy.
I hope to be part of positive change, which may require a little political risk. I was comforted last week when our House Chaplain opened a morning session with a quote from James Bryant Conant, “Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.” There will be times over the coming weeks when I ask difficult questions, pose challenging solutions and make controversial votes. My style is to listen, research, ask questions and deliberate on each issue. Some of you will see an exposed neck and others a bold neck. I hope you appreciate that whether or not we agree, I am trying to make my decisions from the neck up.